Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carrabba's Green Hills

Okay, so it's started. Two months into this baby-having thing and I am already lusting after a vehicle with a sliding door and a large rear seat area. And growing tired of takeout, I'm turning my eyes toward more kid-friendly establishments. As in, minivans and restaurants large and loud enough that a crying baby won't be an embarrassment.

Carrabba's had a few things going against it right out of the gate. First and foremost, I have never been a huge fan. I've gone to Carrabba's in Memphis and Hendersonville and thought that the experience was okay but not great (or even good). I've typically gotten the manicotti and at each location it's always been served so hot that I couldn't eat it until everyone else was nearly finished. Second, I don't usually eat Italian food out because I can make it at home fairly easily. Third, I prefer to support local restaurants with menus created by chefs rather than focus groups and with a knowledgeable staff that provides excellent service.

But we had a gift card, so we decided to try out the Carrabba's in Green Hills. Fortunately, I knew enough to call ahead to get on the waiting list. This place is always busy and it was also a Friday night. When we arrived, we were seated in about five minutes.

So it started out good and just got better. Peroni. A salad with field greens, not iceberg lettuce. And a brick-oven pizza with perfect thin crust and just a hint of char. And my special request to sub Roma tomatoes (which were red, not pink) was noted and accommodated without hesitation. This I like. And dessert, a Limoncello Bread Pudding from the specials menu. It's a portion big enough for two; a yummy, rich brioche with a good lemon flavor and just a hint of the alcohol.

Now, about the service. Despite it being BUSY, the service (from the door to table and back) was amazing. Our server was helpful, knowledgeable (a definite advantage of many upscale chains) and attentive, and the other members of the staff were helpful and accommodating as well (such as when I stopped another server to request a look at the bacinos she was carrying). And, though I thought my pizza was perfect, we got a visit from the owner with another pizza; apparently, he or someone on the staff didn't think it quite met their standards. So instead of delaying our order, they brought the first one and then another. When I told him the first one was great and asked if I could take the second with me, he happily boxed it up for me. All of this is the kind of service one expects at an upscale chef's restaurant, not a busy chain restaurant near a mall. But the owner and the staff at Carrabba's in Green Hills apparently strive to make it seem as much like the original Carrabba's and less like a chain--and they do a great job.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day

Thanks to a very special Grammy Eats, Mr. Eats and I got to go out to dinner--just the two of us--to celebrate Valentine's Day. Normally, I'd make a special dinner for us, but the addition of Baby Eats and Grammy Eats at the table would make the occasion less than romantic...

So where to go for our big night out? I procrastinated because I couldn't decide where to go and the days were ticking down and yada yada we were lucky enough to get 6:30pm reservations at Germantown Cafe, one of Nashville's best restaurants for a romantic dinner.

Germantown Cafe isn't fancy pants; it's a really nice but casual restaurant with good food. In other words, it's a step up food-wise from J. Alexander's but you don't have to worry about whether or not you're wearing the right kind of jeans. But maybe you oughtta change out of the sweatshirt covered in spit-up (oh, that's just me? nevermind).

We started out dinner with a couple of starters...escargot for the husband (pass) and baked brie for me. Mr. Eats remarked that you don't see either item on menus much any more and that even though he was happy to see both, the menu seemed kind of dated. I reminded him that the popularity of Julie and Julia had propelled Mastering the Art of French Cooking back to the bestseller list recently so French-inspired cuisine and these old standbys are actually rather trendy. Or maybe they just like this stuff.

For dinner, I had the pasta dish. There's a green plate that features a portobella mushroom cap, but because they're a popular staple here at home (sooo easy to roast), I skipped it. The pasta had a mushroom cream sauce. I wasn't super intrigued, but was very pleased. The pasta was cooked well and the portion was large enough to feed the husband the next night (bonus!).

Entrees are served with a salad and bread. Normally, I wouldn't mention either, but this It's akin to a beignet and in fact, is served sweet for brunch. I could make a meal of these little rolls. They were dangerously good and didn't even need butter. This, my friends is remarkable. Because to me, everything needs butter. As a kid, I only ate bread so I could have butter. I ate butter sandwiches. So for me to say something is good enough to have without butter, you know it's one awesome piece of dough.

Mr. Eats had a sea critter for dinner that was served on a bed of sweet potato risotto with sauteed asparagus. Luckily, the plate was arranged so that I could taste the risotto that was not soiled by critter juice. Delicious. I'm going to have to try it at home because the flavor was more delicate and pleasant than pumpkin risotto.

But the highlight? Dessert. I had a sort of apple cobbler thing that was good but could not compare to the red velvet cheesecake. I was a little worried about this cheesecake at first. That's a lot of dye, right? I'm not so sure, because neither of us looked as though we'd been freebasing red Kool-Aid. I thought it might affect the taste, but no. This cheesecake was fantastic. Cake-y without being dry (who hasn't had a disappointignly dry red velvet cake? So sad). The texture was wonderful. And it was topped with a delicate cream cheese frosting. I know, I know, but it worked. Incidentally, it was not chocolate-flavored, thankfully. And the portion size was (again) very generous so that I didn't have to worry about getting stabbed each time I reached across the table for a bite. Because that could seriously ruin the mood of a Valentine's dinner, don't you think?